Life of Agony – The Journey to a Place Where There’s No More PainSunday, 30th April 2017
A band that’s seen more than their fair share of ups and downs over the years, Life of Agony has still found a way to come out on top. Here in 2017, they’ve just released their first album since 2005’s Broken Valley, an album that they almost didn’t recover from. Plenty has happened along the way since that moment – said album being yanked from the shelves (along with others) due to the label pressing the album with spyware, vocalist Mina Caputo coming out as transgender, and a split in 2011 and reformation back in 2014, just to mention a few. And so, Life of Agony is back, with a new sense of urgency.
New record, A Place Where There’s No More Pain brings the band full circle to their early days without feeling like a retread. They’ve embraced who they are as a band and seem to have found a new sense of confidence behind them. Just prior to the album’s release, we were able to grab bassist Alan Robert for a chat about the band’s journey over the last few years, his work in the comic industry and recently released horror-themed coloring book, as well as what the band intends to do next.
Dead Rhetoric: Was there ever a moment in the years the band was on hiatus that you thought you were finished?
Alan Robert: Every time we broke up. This band has had a history of split ups that were unavoidable. I think that everything that has happened to us happened for a reason, and we wouldn’t be as strong as we are today if we didn’t live through that. Including the last record, Broken Valley, and signing to a major label and getting a taste of what that was like and getting caught up in the big machine. It really disheartened us, that whole experience. I think that’s one of the main reasons that it took us twelve years to wrap our heads around writing a new album.
Dead Rhetoric: I was actually going to ask about that – was it a refreshing take to return to a smaller label after the debacle with Sony and the spyware issue after the release of Broken Valley?
Robert: That was just one piece of it. There’s the whole creative control aspect. One thing I have to say about Napalm…they gave us complete creative control from the beginning and we felt that they had a lot of faith in us as people and as songwriters. They let us do our own thing. They never heard one demo for this album, and in fact, they didn’t hear one note until the album was completely mastered and handed to them. I think that is kind of unheard of, for any label. Even Roadrunner was more involved. They would drop by the rehearsal room back in the ‘90s. But Napalm, they signed us to get a new Life of Agony album, and that’s exactly what they got. They got it in its purest form, because they didn’t interrupt us, they didn’t distract us, and that’s why we were able to deliver such a powerful record.
Dead Rhetoric: You reformed again after the last split in 2014 with some festival dates – with Mina [Caputo] coming out [as transgender] as the band stopped in 2011, was there trepidation as to how people would respond to her before you hit the stage as a band again?
Robert: Yeah, I think we were all very…concerned isn’t the right word, but we had a very ‘whatever happens, happens’ kind of attitude. We weren’t really sure what was going to happen – there was that uncertainty there. By the time we had agreed to do those shows, and we had reconciled among the four of us, we really didn’t care. We wanted to do it for the four of us, and I think that’s been our attitude since that point. Since 2014, we decided we were going to do it on our own terms and do it for us. When we were offered the record deal from Napalm, we wanted to do it for us. I think that was really important.
At the end of the day, when we started doing this band in the first place, we had no expectations or any ideas on whether it would be successful or have longevity, and here we are over two decades later still talking about this. We kind of went back to our roots in a way. In terms of what makes us happy as artists and as friends. We got a lot more hands-on. We got rid of our entourage of crew – people who would travel with us. It’s totally stripped down now – it’s more punk rock than ever. I think that it keeps us young and it keeps us hungry, and keeps our heads in the game. There’s a lot more face-time between band members. When you travel around with a big entourage of people, you get caught up in everyone else’s drama on the road. It’s a much different experience now. We’ve grown up a lot and I think we have a lot of fun together, just the four band members. I think that is the way we’ve been thinking about it – if it’s not fun, we won’t do it. That’s why this Napalm opportunity seemed right, because they were going to give us the creative control we wanted.
Dead Rhetoric: So with these break-ups over the years, do you feel that when you get back together, it’s strengthened the core of the band?
Robert: I think every break-up was different. With the Broken Valley experience I had discussed, it felt like our hearts had been ripped out of our chest. When our record got pulled off the shelf 3 months after the whole spyware thing happened – we got caught up in this thing that we had nothing to do with. When you work hard writing and recording an album, doing weeks of press tours and talking to good people like yourself about a record that’s going to come out, only to have it be unavailable due to actions that you weren’t involved in – it left a really bad taste in our mouth. It was hard to recover from that.
I think when you are going through something like that, as an artist, and things aren’t working out…we were pressured into doing some tours that we didn’t think were right. We were trying to make everyone around us happy, but deep down we weren’t happy. We were starting to lash out at each other because we didn’t know what the hell was going on. Our anger was kind of misdirected. Now that we have taken things into our own hands again; we are a lot happier and we are making our own decisions – it comes through in the material. If we aren’t all on board with something, we just don’t do it. One of the benefits of being around for so long is that you don’t really care anymore, in terms of trying to make everyone happy. You realize what’s important.
Dead Rhetoric: Some veteran acts often come back and just do some reunion shows – what sparked the idea of writing a new album? Was it along the lines of what you’ve been saying…that you wanted to do it for yourselves?
Robert: We weren’t even thinking about writing new material. We were perfectly fine with playing shows and everything…then Napalm approached us. First of all, once we heard that we didn’t have to submit any demos to do – it that started the relationship on the right foot. We were open to hearing more. They agreed to everything that we wanted – we got to produce the record ourselves with a good friend of ours, Matt Brown, who is an incredible engineer and producer. We got to make those decisions for ourselves, which is pretty rare these days, and it makes a world of difference. When you are working with someone that you have known since you were kids versus finding a big name on a list that has done one of your favorite records in the last few years – getting to know that person and knowing their capabilities and how they perceive the band as opposed to how you perceive the band.
No one knows this band better than us. We’ve been doing this a long time and we also realized that some of the later records kind of lost their way. We got back to those older roots and the core ideas and themes of what makes this band special. I think that’s all part of it – we put a lot more thought into it and we are at the point where the band is very communicative with each other and more open to each other’s ideas than ever before.
Dead Rhetoric: In terms of the music itself, what do you think makes A Place Where There’s No More Pain different for what you’ve done before?
Robert: More thought went into it. Even an album like River Runs Red, where those songs were written over a long period of time, it was only after they were compiled to make the album that we thought, “Hey, this is a concept record.” It was almost an afterthought. With this record, even before we wrote one note, we talked at length about the direction we wanted to go, the tuning we wanted to write in…we used C sharp as opposed to tuning to D, or C, for the other records. We made some deliberate choices early on. Along the way, as we submitted ideas to each other, if it wasn’t universally liked by all four band members we would either try to develop it to a place that did make everyone happy, or if it wasn’t working out we put it to the side. We never really did that before. We would develop all the ideas and we would run out of time…and those were the songs we got for the album. This time we were more selective, and were our own worst critics since we produced it ourselves. Every song had to meet a certain standard to get the vote. It really made us push each other to get to 100%.
Dead Rhetoric: There’s a lot of reverence for River Runs Red, but have you found that more people have grown attached to Ugly over the years?
Robert: Absolutely. I remember the fallout after Ugly came out. People called it a sophomore slump and that we had changed our sound too drastically. Saying a lot of the heavier elements were gone. Now, it’s so funny to see some of those same people change their tune about that record just because it’s grown on them for so many years. There’s whole generations of people that found out about this band on that album and then had to go back and seek out River Runs Red. There’s even Broken Valley fans that go back and hit the back catalogue. They play catch-up and that’s all good. For those people, Broken Valley is their favorite and then the others don’t really compare as much because that’s when they found the band.
We have a lot of different styles and a lot of different approaches to a sound. We never set out to make the same record twice. I think with the new album, it’s the best one out of all of them. It has the melody, the intensity, and it’s got the big guitars. With being so involved with every aspect, we compared it sonically with the old records to try and beat it. We wanted the guitars to sound bigger than River Runs Red, we wanted the drums to sound more crisp and more in your face, and the overall mix to be louder and wider. Even the performances – to have more energy and really find the right tempos for these songs that would translate live. I think that by doing this for so long and knowing the band as well as we do, and understanding what our fans are looking for – we have learned a lot over the years and put that knowledge into making these decisions.
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